Valhalla Rising: A new addition to reject fridge art

When you sit down to watch a movie, you do so thinking that what you are about to watch has some semblance of plot or good character development.

Not so with “Valhalla Rising,” a film from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. This English-language Dutch film is an affront to the idea of a proper movie and should frankly be taken out back and shot.

There is virtually nothing of substance to this film — nothing that might allow the viewer to get their bearings. Almost no dialogue, one named character and no named settings; this is just slightly above a well-shot student filming terms of decency.

I had to look up a synopsis of the plot because watching it absolutely confused me. Apparently, the setting is Scotland around the year 1000 A.D. and follows the protagonist One-Eye and a boy as they travel with crusaders to get to the Holy Land. Whoever wrote that synopsis on Wikipedia that day probably didn’t watch the same movie that I did.

Mads Mikkelsen of “Hannibal” and “King Arthur” fame plays the only named character in the film, One-Eye. The enigmatic and infuriatingly silent protagonist does not speak a single word through the entire movie. Even when he slaughters his way through what appears to be the entire Scottish Highlands, not a word escapes his lips.

At the beginning of the movie, the only thing that is apparent is that One-Eye is in some sort of medieval Fight Club. Which is fitting, since the first rule of Fight Club is not speaking of Fight Club and virtually nobody speaks the entire movie.

Mikkelsen spends the entire movie being led around by “the boy,” played by Maarten Stevenson, who acts as both guide and speaker for the mute “protagonist.” I say “protagonist” like that because there is no defined good or evil character in this movie. Watching this film feels like I’m being led through purgatory and my guide has wandered off.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by the crew of Vikings attempting to sail for the Holy Land in Jerusalem. In keeping with the theme, none of them are ever addressed by name or title. However, since I was dying to know what they were called, I watched all the way through to the credits.

Consisting of such thrilling names as The General, The Priest, The Chieftain, The Son, Vikings #1 and #2, and The Lost Viking, it appears that the screenwriters didn’t try too hard. According to an interview with the director, who chose only to name the protagonist, this was a deliberate action.

So now that there were no names and the barest bones of a plot, not even half of a skeleton really, let us address the music — or lack thereof. In some places, it even goes so complex as to have two organ notes playing simultaneously. Like everything else about this movie, the music feels like the director is trying to be artsy and out-there.

He failed. Abjectly.

I was misled. My friends were misled into thinking this might be a halfway decent film. The poster looked so cool, the title is just awesome and the lead actor is amazing in everything else I’ve seen him in. And yet this movie manages to squash all three of those awesome things into the ground.

My one consolation in all of this is that out of the $5.7 million poured into this, only about $31,000 were ever recouped. It did so terribly with audiences that it had to be sold to Netflix. Doing the math, they only made 1/183 of their money back, which is just hilarious.

Weirdly enough, despite the amount of money that this movie didn’t make, and the fact that it was soul scarring, there were those who gave it glowing reviews. B.T. a Danish tabloid, gave it a 6/6 and called it a masterpiece. That feels a bit like a parent calling a child’s artwork “great” before tacking it onto the fridge with the rest of the reject art.

In the end, I am just glad that this movie is on Netflix and that I am not the one paying for the subscription. I don’t actually think that this is worth purchasing, so I’ll save you that money.
But it is a great palate cleanser, as every bad movie that I’ve ever watched prior to this is wiped clean from my mental hard drive. Now there is nowhere from here but up.